Tuesday, April 9, 2013

CAAANBRA: Hide and Seek

For months and months the progressive/left twitterati has been quivering with indignation. Why has the mainstream media forsaken us? Why is the mainstream media giving Tony Abbott and the Coalition such an easy ride to the next federal election?

"It’s not fair!" we whinge silently. The ALP Government has done a pretty good job of governing in what is a hostile environment, but they have comprehensively failed at getting the message out. When they do something good, it’s invariably and unfairly overshadowed by something else, and that something else is often a relatively minor issue of Labor's own making. If you’re a Labor supporter, or even just an interested centre voter, you could be forgiven for thinking that the media favours Tony Abbott and the Coalition.

Everyone has a preference, a perspective, yet like almost everyone I know, I still harbour an expectation that The Media will be objective, fair and honest. I've known for decades that my belief is not always reality, but each time I turn on Fox News, I'm surprised by their partisanship.

The surprise in the Australian media is how the mainstream media can so blatantly support Tony Abbott when he so openly lies, fibs, backflips, flipflops, evades, obfuscates, goes silent and even walks away from the media when the questions get uncomfortable. And he gets away with it by continuing the same behaviour.

Australia's Conservative Media Stars

As columnist and academic Peter Van Onselen reminded us on his Sunday Agenda programme two days ago, it was 482 days since Mr Abbott appeared on the programme. Van Onselen is one of a handful of commentators who have commented in the past week or two that the Leader of the Opposition been getting a very easy ride and not being asked to explain his views. Van Onselen’s opinion piece in the Sunday Telegraph highlights the fickle series of stories Abbott’s been telling State Premiers about the GST disbursement.
When it comes to the GST, Abbott's going around the country telling states what they want to hear. But his comments are entirely inconsistent.

It seems that Mr Abbott is able to say no to repeated invitations to appear on a variety of current affairs shows – a luxury which will not continue beyond the next election, regardless of the result.
He has refused to appear on any of the major ABC current affairs programmes since he was disemboweled by Leigh Sales on 7:30 on August 22nd last year. Even worse, it’s approaching 1000 days since Mr Abbott has appeared on the ABC’s top-rating current affairs chatfest QandA.

But no! Ask Mr Abbott’s camp, and you’ll quickly learn he’s not avoiding the media. He's been giving interviews to stacks of regional and right-wing talk radio hosts, as well as the usual round of doorstop comments and quick pressers, usually accompanied by some combination of hi-viz, hairnet or hard hat. Mr Abbott even appeared with conservative commentator Chris Kenny on the Sky News weekly programme Viewpoint. Mr Kenny noted that so persistent are the calls for Mr Abbott to talk to the media, he raised the subject with Mr Abbott. It must’ve been like landing on a cloud of fairy floss.


This is the issue that’s starting to develop for you though in that the Government’s had so much trouble, there’s a sense that you’re looking to skate into government without enough scrutiny as a small target opposition, not putting out your policies, your plan for the country. Now, a lot of your policy work is done. We hear that the IR policy and communications policies are ready to go. Why not get them out there so that the voters of Australia can have a look at them?


Well Chris, let’s scotch this myth that there’s been no scrutiny of the Opposition. Every day there would be a half a dozen government ministers who come onto Sky News who do doorstops and interviews attacking the Opposition. I mean this is the most attacked, the most scrutinised Opposition in history because….


….They do talk a lot about the Opposition, there’s no doubt about it, we hear AbbottAbbottAbbott from the Government, but what about the policy detail. You need to get an industrial relations policy out there for instance, we also need to know in detail what Malcolm Turnbull plans to do with the NBN. Get that detail out to the public; give the voters your vote of confidence that they can understand your policies.


And all in good time Chris. Obviously we are not going to go to polling day with the voters in doubt as to exactly what will happen under a Coalition government. The last thing I want to do is be one of those politicians who says one thing before an election and does the opposite afterwards because that’s why we are in trouble as a political class. Too many members of the current Government – the Prime Minister in particular – have broken faith with the public and that’s the last thing that I will do. But I would, Chris, encourage people to read this book…they can get it online and it’s…

And on it goes, the non-answers, the lack of commitment. The full transcript is worth reading, just to note how often Chris Kenny sees that Mr Abbott is getting into difficulty in answering a question, and gently lets him off the hook and moves onto the next topic. At other times, he simply lets a scripted talking point stand, unchallenged. I’ll bet that Tony Abbott gets tougher questions from Margie than he got from Chris Kenny…which itself is to be expected. Despite a background in media, Mr Kenny spent a decade working in various Liberal Party roles, and even stood – unsuccessfully - for pre-selection to run for the Liberal Party. Chris Kenny is a Liberal Man, and there's a fair chance that should the Coalition form government in September, there will be a plum job somewhere in Canberra for Mr Kenny.
Tony Abbott, wrapped in plastic

Then, we moved to last night' Viewpoint panel. So weighted to the right was last night’s Viewpoint panel, it’s a wonder it didn’t tip my television over. Aside from Mr Kenny, there was
Lee Rhiannon - Greens

Bob Katter - Federal Conservative with his own party

Tim Blair - Conservative Columnist (News Limited)

Miranda Devine - Conservative Commentator
Rather than disproving the suggestions that Mr Abbott is avoiding serious interviews and interviewers, choosing to appear with Chris Kenny reinforces the belief that Mr Abbott is not comfortable across the desk from less sympathetic interviewers, answering tough questions.
And that’s fine. Not everyone excels at debating, and not everyone is comfortable in front of cameras. But no more excuses. Even Chris Kenny has admitted that if the Liberals have policies ready and costed, they should release them - and they are releasing the details of their NBN alternative today.

The problem for the Liberals is that the Prime Minister of Australia needs to have those debating skills, that confidence, ready to fire. Even those closest to Mr Abbott must concede that he is lacking, and that this situation cannot continue.

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